9/11 still fresh in memory for many
'Flashbulb' memory phenomena creates collective recollection
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 17:09
It will be 11 years since the U.S. was changed forever.
On September 11, 2001 over over 3,000 people, including 400 police officers and fire fighters, were killed when two American Airline flights and two United Airline flights were hijacked in midair by al-Qaeda terrorists wielding box cutters.
The flights were directed toward the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon and Capital Building in Washington D.C.
It was a day few in the United States will ever forget; images have been played and replayed of American Airlines’ Flight 11 and United Airlines’ Flight 175 soaring into the World Trade Center and then horrifying the collapse of the two buildings.
Many people remember exactly when and where they were when they received the news of the tragedy.
Psychology senior Taisha Parkins, a Brooklyn native and a 5th grade student at John L. Steptoe School of the 21st Century at the time, vividly recalls that day in New York.
“I was nine years old in the 5th grade. I remember an assistant telling our teacher to look out window. All I could see was smoke after the plane had crashed. I was concerned about the people in the building and hoped that they were OK. Now when I look back on it I just think that that could have been me,” said Parkins.
Richard Patterson, mass communication senior recalls this: “I thought it was a movie. I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was. I remember going to the library because it was our classes turn to go and the teacher pushing the TV in on the cart. We watched the effects of the attacks and I remember seeing a woman covered in ashes. I thought she was getting a perm.”
Dante Johnson, psychology sophomore, remembers he was in the 3rd grade. “I was at home and my dad, who is a pilot, was the one who told me the news. He was pretty concerned. I remember for a long time I had the image of terrorists burned in my mind.”
James Alexander, a 26-year-old mass communication senior, was in 10th grade when the attacks occured.
“I was in history class at Durham School of the Arts. People were talking about something big that had happened. It thought it was a movie. I didn’t understand what was going on. Then in 7th period, while on the Yearbook staff, I went on the Internet. That’s when I saw what happened,” said Alexander.
“I was just blown apart.” Nothing in my lifetime compares. It’s a big defining moment for our generation, and our country. It’s one of those dates where there’s a before and after it,” said Alexander about his reaction to the tragedy.
So why do these students recall the event in such detail?
It’s a phenomena psychologists call “flashbulb memory.” A term first defined and studied by psychologists Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977. The psychologists coined the term to refer to the near total recall that individuals can have of great historical moments. According to Brown and Kulik flash bulb memory occurs when great emotion surround an historic event, usually one that is shocking, surprising and tragic.
In a 2011 article, “Seared in our memories,” Bridgett Murray Law writes that “these detailed recollections can be as clear as something that happened yesterday, right down to the dialogue, the weather, and even what people were wearing when they heard the news.”
Often these events are collective, experienced by the nation as a whole, and often the media coverage is unending.
Here’s some examples of events that may or may not fit the bill, depending on your age and experiences: the 1941 surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 1963 assassination of John Kennedy, the 1969 moon landing, the 1986 Challenger explosion, the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, and, most recently, the theatre shootings at a premiere showing of a Batman film in Colorado.
In “Yesterday,” a survey commissioned by a British history channel, 300 people were asked to recall 32 personal and historical memories.
Almost 50 years after the 1963 President John F Kennedy assassination more than half of respondents in England were able to remember in precise details of when and where they were when they received the news of the American president’s death.
News of the World Trade Center attacks topped “flashbulb memory” list. Surprisingly their recall of specific details of the World Trade Center attack were often more vivid than highly personal events, such as the birth of a child.
In the survey 92 per cent of the respondents knew exactly where they were when they heard the news of the 9/11 attack; 84 per cent remembered the time they heard the news; and 71 percent recalled what they were doing the moment they heard the news.
According to Elizabeth Phelps, a neuropsychologist who is studying 9/11 memories, a specific part of the brain -- the amygdala -- plays a key part in forming emotionally charged flashbulb memories.